St. Augustine, Florida celebrates 500 years of history since explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first came ashore near present day St. Augustine. Beginning April 2nd, the celebration will continue throughout 2013.

In 1513, in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth, explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed along the Atlantic coast. His ships landed on Florida’s east coast in the vicinity of present day St. Augustine. Claiming the new land he had discovered for Spain, he chose La Florida or “Place of Flowers” for its name.

In 1565, hearing that the French had built a fort at the mouth of the St. Johns River, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, was commissioned by the King of Spain to remove them. Menendez established St. Augustine, and then marched 40 miles with 500 men to surprise the French.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. It is rich in history and still retains its old world charm today. We have vacationed many times in St. Augustine and also vacationed in Cedar Key and they remain two of our favorite places to visit in Florida.

Castillo de San Marcos Florida’s Oldest Fort

Castillo de San Marcos fort was used to protect the Spanish territory in Florida and the shipping routes along the Florida coast. Its construction began in 1672 and it is the oldest existing permanent seacoast fort in the US today. St. Augustine quickly grew around Castillo de San Marcos and became the seat of Spanish power in Florida.

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Soldier reenactments demonstrate the weapons used by the colonial soldiers at the Castillo de San Marcos. The fort is part of the National Park Service and is not only historic but educational as well.

The barracks at Castillo de San Marcos are displayed much as they were during the early years the fort was occupied for the defense of the town of St. Augustine.

Inside Castillo de San Marcos the soldiers were ready to defend the city of St. Augustine. There were times when the city was under attach, and it was necessary for the soldiers and their families to seek shelter inside the fort as enemy forces occupied the surrounding area. They sometimes spent weeks and even months gathered inside the fort walls for protection. Life was extremely difficult at those times.

The gate of Castillo de San Marcos St. Augustine is still being guarded today but now by volunteers that will explain daily life as it was lived by the resident soldiers. The fort was last used for defensive purposes in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.

The cannon firing demonstration at Castillo de San Marcos is an impressive reenactment to see and hear. The soldiers march from the lower level of the fort, up the steps, and over to the cannon placements. When you watch the cannon firing demonstration you will be warned to cover your ears when they are about to fire the cannons, heed the warning…it’s loud!

The City Gate of St. Augustine, Florida

The City Gate of St Augustine stood to protect the citizens of St. Augustine. Still today, the old district retains its 16th century Spanish Colonial walled town appearance. The colonial buildings in the old district date from 1703 to 1821.

The oldest wooden school house in St. Augustine was built by hand over 200 years ago. It was small, had no electricity, running water or bathrooms. You can take a tour of the school house to see just how different life was with no modern conveniences.

The historic streets in St. Augustine are lovely to walk around and ideal for photographers. There are many tiny alleyways to walk thru as well as the longer brick paved roads.

The historic streets of St Augustine remain today much as they did hundreds of years ago. You’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time in this picturesque town.

The Mission of Nombre de Dios

The Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine is on the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios. St. Joseph is pictured overlooking the Chapel. A visit to this Chapel is always on our list when we visit St. Augustine.

Walking around the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios is one of the most peaceful places we have been. There are several plaques and sculptures here with descriptive placards that explain each one and benches for resting and enjoying the tranquil surroundings.

The Great Cross, standing as a sentinel over the Mission, is a stainless steel structure rising two hundred and eight feet above the marshes of the Matanzas River. In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles placed a small wooden cross in Florida’s soil and founded the Mission of Nombre de Dios, the site of the first Mass. It is believed that here is where the first Thanksgiving in the New World was celebrated. The Great Cross erected in 1966, celebrates the Four Hundredth anniversary of the Mission of Nombre de Dios and the City of St. Augustine.

The Fountain of Youth

I met up with Juan Ponce de Leon at the entrance to the legendary Fountain of Youth. I didn’t have time to go inside that day, so I said good-by and wished him luck in his search. He told me the Fountain of Youth could be found just beyond that wall and I was glad that he finally found what he’d been searching for. You can visit the site of the 15 acre Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, and I bet Juan Ponce de Leon will be waiting to greet you too!

Historical Architecture in St. Augustine

The Casa Monica Hotel, a Moorish Revival-style building was built by Franklin Smith in 1887 and later bought by Henry Flagler in 1888. This magnificent hotel features intricate balconies, an arched carriage entrance and hand painted Italian tile.

Flagler College, originally the Hotel Ponce de Leon built by Henry Flagler in 1888. It is one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in America. In 1967 the hotel was turned into Flagler College. Daily tours are given. This is a must see when in St. Augustine.

Memorial Presbyterian Church was built by Henry Flagler in 1889 as a memorial to his only daughter. It is Venetian Renaissance Architecture with a dome that is more than a 100 feet high. Henry Flagler and his daughter are buried in the mausoleum.

Fort Matanzas in St Augustine, Florida

Fort Matanzas in St Augustine, FL was built in 1720 to guard the southern approaches of the Matanzas inlet. You can take a ferry boat to the fort where volunteers in authentic costume reenact daily routines at the fort and explain how life was for the soldiers that lived there.

Standing guard at Fort Matanzas. Located approximately 15 miles south of St. Augustine, this small fortification was vital in protecting the inlet of Matanzas and the city of St. Augustine.

Sunset in St. Augustine, Florida

This sunset in St. Augustine was amazing! We were walking around town, just about to head back to our hotel, when the sky lit up in this incredible display of color. I wonder if sunsets in St. Augustine are like this every night. If so, there’s another reason to love it here.

Come experience St. Augustine and you will see why people have been in love with La Florida the “Place of Flowers” for 500 years.

If you’ve been to St. Augustine we’d love to hear about your experience too. Leave your comments below!

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